From Mozart to Falco

Three Centuries of Austrian Music

The Bustling Music Life of Austria

Next to the astonishing mountains and amazing landscapes, music is what most of us associate Austria with, which is not surprising, since without doubt Austria and its capital Vienna was for a long time Europe’s, and possibly the World’s center of classical music. This heritage is what brings visitors here today to witness these historical locations. For filmmakers and photographers one of the most important results of this music life and culture are the many wonderful locations that this country has to offer, but one should also not forget about the brilliant leisure opportunities, that are ideal for relaxing after a shoot. In order to give a deeper insight into Austrian culture for those who visit us to do a production, we have summarized how music has become inseparable and entwined with Austria’s history.

Next to the astonishing mountains and amazing landscapes, music is what most of us associate Austria with, which is not surprising, since without doubt Austria and its capital Vienna was for a long time Europe’s, and possibly the World’s center of classical music. This heritage is what brings visitors here today to witness these historical locations. For filmmakers and photographers one of the most important results of this music life and culture are the many wonderful locations that this country has to offer, but one should also not forget about the brilliant leisure opportunities, that are ideal for relaxing after a shoot. In order to give a deeper insight into Austrian culture for those who visit us to do a production, we have summarized how music has become inseparable and entwined with Austria’s history.

Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven - The Birth of Classical Music in Vienna

Some say (as a joke) that Beethoven is the Mozart of music. Well, even though not everyone might find this funny, it must be said that there is true absurdity in this statement, since both names - at least in European culture - are pretty much synonymous with the idea of music. Beethoven and Mozart are such figures for music, as Shakespeare is for literature, Da Vinci for painting or Newton for physics, and when we realise that both of these composers’ lives and work is strongly connected to Austria and Vienna, it will become clear why Vienna is seen as Europe’s capital of classical music.

 The three "Vienna Masters" Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Joseph Haydn

In the 18th and 19th century Vienna was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and later of the Austrian Empire, as well as the home of the Habsburg monarchy, making it the center of one of the largest empires in Europe. Back then when the three “Vienna Masters” - Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn - arrived to Vienna, the imperial capital already had an old music tradition, which was supported by the rich aristocracy. The rich aristocrats often financed musicians and hired composers and musicians to compose and give concerts in their luxurious palaces. This is how, for example, Mozart and Haydn, his friend and mentor spent a large part of their lives in the court of the aristocrat Eszterházy family, before returning to Vienna.

Statue of Mozart, Volksgarten, Vienna

Gradually during this period, partially thanks to Mozart’s and Haydn’s art, composers gained wider respect and their place and rank in society was risen. The importance of the Vienna Masters overthrew their artistic importance; because these composers had changed the role of music under 20 years; from background entertainment to respected high-art. This had a huge cultural effect on Vienna; by the time Beethoven moved to Vienna, the city was famous in Europe for its musical life and was regarded as the capital of composing. As 20 years before, Paris was seen as the home of the opera and London the home of instrumental concerts, Vienna around 1800 was the leading scene in all aspects of music.

Gustav Mahler at the Vienna State Opera

In the 19th century Vienna lead the development of the role of music in society and its institutional background. Europe’s first conservatories was founded in the 1800s, from which hundreds of students have graduated becoming professionally educated musicians and composers. The Vienna Conservatory - later named University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna - was founded in 1817 and one of its most famous students was the world famous conductor and composer Gustav Mahler. Mahler finished his degree there in 1878, then was the director of Vienna’s Opera House (the Hofoper) for ten years from 1897. This is to this day one of the world’s largest music education centers.

Musikverein, Vienna

At the same time with the establishing of conservatories, countless orchestras were founded, which were completely made of professional musicians. Many of these are still world famous today, such as the Vienna Philharmonic, which even today is regarded as one of the best in the world. The newly founded concert orchestras - in the which the maecenas still had an important role as supporters - organized their concerts with business in mind, so that playing in an orchestra could become the musicians’ profession and would ensure them that they could earn a living without having to be part of an aristocrat’s court or be contracted to the church, enabling a new dynamism in the development of music. The most outstanding composer of the beginning of the 19th century was Franz Schubert, who was Viennese to the core. Regarded by many as the first romantic composer, who although, he died tragically young, living only 31 years, was extremely creative, having composed nearly 1000 pieces.

Franz Liszt giving a concert to Emperor Franz Joseph I on a Bösendorfer pianoPhoto: Wikipedia

In the second half of the 19th century music life continued to flourish in Austria. Orchestras could perform to the crowds in such grandiose concert halls, such as the Vienna State Opera. Founded in 1869, this exceptional building is exciting as a filming location as well, since Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise was filmed here. Another remarkable building is the Musikverein, which’s Golden Hall is still regarded as one of the concert halls with the best acoustics in the world. In this period in history Johann Strauss II was active in Vienna, and it is mainly due to him that the waltz became so popular in Vienna. No wonder he was called the King of the Waltz by his contemporaries! Vienna also played an important role in the life of the Hungarian piano virtuoso, Franz Liszt. According to recollections written then, during his concerts the viewers would get into a hysterical state due to the power of his performance, which was humorously named by Heinrich Heine as Lisztomania or Liszt fever.

Salzburg - The City of Mozart and the Sound of Music

Salzburg, the awe-inspiringly beautiful Alpine city is one of the most iconic places in Austria. Next to having a gorgeous baroque old town, is the birthplace of W. A. Mozart and the home of the film The Sound of Music, making it famous all around the world, and entwining the city’s name with music.

Mozart’s Home Town

The city of Salzburg is completely connected with Mozart’s personality. One can meet with his name on every streetcorner. A statue of him stands on the square that is named after him. The house in which he was born can still be found on one of the most atmospheric streets of Salzburg’s old town. This street is called Getreidegasse. In the Makartplatz we can find the house where he lived when he was young while he worked as the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg’s court musician. One of Europe’s most renowned music educational institutions is named after him as well; the Mozarteum Salzburg. And if this would not be enough, there is the world famous Mozartkugeln, created by Paul Fürst, a confectioner in Salzburg, insuring that Mozart and Salzburg is inseparably intertwined in people’s minds.

The City of The Sound of Music’s Trapp Family
Next to Mozart, many other famous musical figures were born in Salzburg, for example Josef Mohr, who with Franz Gruber composed Silent Night for the Christmas mass of 1818. Also Herbert von Karajan, one of the most respected conductors of the 20th century was born here and in respect for him a square in the city was named after him. But regardless of this, next to Mozart, Salzburg can thank the most to one of its citizens, who is hardly known by her name; Maria von Trapp. She is the person who wrote the book called The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, which inspired the creators of the film The Sound of Music, which had an enormous role in Salzburg becoming a city known around the world. The story based on Maria’s book was filmed in the city’s most beautiful squares, streets and castles. For example there is a scene that was shot in front of the castle that is today home to the Mozarteum. Apart from other castles and palaces, such as the Schloss Mirabell and Schloss Leopoldskron, the city’s baroque squares were also important locations for countless scenes, for example the Residenzplatz next to the Mozartplatz, which today is named after Herbert von Karajan.

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This classic film, that won 5 Oscars, has become inseparably connected with Salzburg and even today hundreds of thousands of tourists come to visit Salzburg from every part of the world to see the film locations and to revive their memories of the Trapp family, as well as of their own childhood too.

Living Tradition - Classical Viennese Events Celebrated Today

Although, as we have seen that Austria first became a music center in the 18th and 19th century thanks to the Vienna Masters, Austria has since preserved and upkeeps this tradition, since today the country still has a bustling music life. Classical and contemporary music is still a highly regarded and respected part of Austria’s cultural life. Throughout the country there are countless festivals, opera performances, balls and concerts which music enthusiasts can take part in.

Vienna’s New Year's Concert
Among all of Austria’s music events, the Vienna New Year's Concert is probably the most famous, which has taken place every year since 1939. This event according to many is the most important classical music concert in the world, and is held in the Musikverein’s largest hall, the Golden Hall. The repertoire traditionally features music from the Strauss dynasty and from other Viennese composers, who were their contemporaries; pieces that are waltzes, polkas and everything in between. The most famous pieces, which are indispensable parts of the New Year’s Concert, are Johann Strauss II’s The Blue Danube and Johann Strauss I’s Radetzky March. The latter one is traditionally accompanied by the rhythmic clapping of the crowd, during which the conductor leads the piece facing the audience. The concert is conducted by a different person every year, who is chosen from the best in the world. It is interesting that the concert is so astonishingly popular that the audience is chosen by drawing their names randomly, for which people need to register a year before. The event is viewed via television channels by millions in 90 countries around the world. The broadcast is made even more interesting by a balett performance.

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The Vienna Opera Ball
Next to the Vienna New Year’s Concert, the most luxurious and world famous event is the Vienna Opera Ball, which’s story started in 1814, but only continued consistently and annually from 1956, after a long break due to the Second World War.

The ball traditionally takes place on the Thursday before Shrove Tuesday and is undeniably the most important event of the ball season. Typically the whole of Austria’s upper class is present on this event; even the President and Chancellor of Austria. There is a strict dress code on the ball; men have to wear black tailcoats and white bowties (black ones are worn by waiters) and women have to wear ballgowns that reach the floor and long hair has to be tied up.

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The gorgeous event is organised according to strict choreography. The ball starts at 10 pm, when the president and his guests take their place in the imperial balcony, which is heralded by trumpeters. The opening ceremony’s highlight is the 180 debutant couples’ dance. This dance is a very important event for the carefully chosen young debutants, since this is their first, introductory dance for the upper class. The debutantes dance strict classical choreographies, which is always closed with Johann Strauss II’s The Blue Danube Viennese waltz. After the opening dance, by “Alles Waltzer!” being called out the dance floor becomes open to everyone.

In the further parts of the evening in the halls and lounges of the Opera House there are opportunities for all kinds of dances, for which all kinds of music is played, ranging from the waltz to disco music. On every floor of the building there is constant catering service and thanks to Casinos Austria, one can even play roulette, but one can even visit a hairdresser or a tailor there! The guests leaving the ball in around 5 am, although it is officially not allowed, but they often take home a piece of the flower decoration or throw the leftover decorations on the couples still dancing their last dance.

Wiener Opernball 2013

It is not only very classy to take part in the Vienna Opera Ball, but also very expensive; a box-seat could even cost 21000 €, which does not include the 290 € entrance fee and catering. It is not surprising that next to about 5000 guests, celebrities also like to visit this posh event. One of the most famous recurring guests of the ball is the Austrian entrepreneur Richard Lugner, who every year arrives to the ball with different dignitaries and celebrities, for example Pamela Anderson, Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, Roger Moore, Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian.

Since the Opera House is so popular, the organisers aim for the preparations of the ball to cause the smallest drop-out possible in their program calendar. This is why they reorganize the interior for the ball merely under one day. This hall normally has a constantly functioning stage and auditorium. They change this by removing all the seats and leveling the auditorium’s floor with the stage, which is then covered by parquet.

The Vienna Opera Ball is unquestionably the largest ball in Austria, but it is by no means the only one. In Vienna only 800 balls are held every year, but there are also similar social events in Salzburg, Innsbruck and Graz.

Music Beyond the Magnificent Concert Halls

All around the world Austria is regarded as a truly musical country, yet not many know that in this Alpine land music is not only alive in a traditional sense in magnificent concert halls and opera houses; there is also a bustling musical life outside the classical genre.

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The Largest Musical Festivals in Austria
From spring to autumn, Austria is home to countless exciting, internationally acclaimed music and art festivals. We would like to highlight a few, incase You happen to be in Austria in the right time to be able to take a look at one of the following programs after a film or photo shoot in order to relax.

Among all Austrian festivals the most famous one is the Salzburg Festival, which was first held in 1920 in Mozart’s native town. Since then, this city turns into a stage for a few weeks every year, where world famous musicians give concerts and perform operas and plays to larger audiences. Traditionally one of the festival’s highlights is when Hugo von Hofmannstahl’s piece called Jedermann is performed.

The Bregenz Festival is not only one of Austria’s most exciting and special festivals because of its high-quality concerts and operas, but due its picturesque setting as well. Its special feature is that the opera productions are held on the world’s largest floating stage called the Seebühne, for which the Lake Bodensee ensures a breathtaking panorama as a backset. The exceptional location and stunning set designs attracts not only music enthusiasts, but also inspires filmmakers. For example the key scene of the 2008 James Bond film Quantum of Solance  was shot on the Seebühne. The exciting action scene happens during a performance of Tosca, providing it with sufficiently dramatic music by Puccini.

The Donauinselfest is a huge, open-air contemporary music concert series in Vienna. The three day long festival, full of a large variety of international musicians, is the world’s largest free concert. The festival is located on an island of the Danube, on an area that is 6.5 kilometers long, which is visited by nearly 3 million people. One of the Donauinselfest’s most memorable events was Falco’s concert in 1993, which had an audience of 230,000 visitors.

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From Falco to Conchita Wurst - Popular Music in Austria

Although naturally Austria’s popular music achievements are not comparable to its classical music legacy, still there are pop musicians that are worthy of mentioning.

The most known Austrian songwriter and singer of the 80s was undoubtedly the eccentric Falco, who grew out of the Viennese underground music scene. In 1986, with his most acclaimed single Rock Me Amadeus, he was the only German speaking singer to be number one on the American and British record charts, not only on the German and Austrian ones. His other famous singles include Jeanny, Vienna Calling and Der Kommissar, but he also became renown for his serious alcohol and drug problems. Altogether he sold 20 million albums and 40 million singles, making him the best-selling Austrian singer of all time.

The most prominent member of the Austrian music scene after 2000 is Parov Stelar, who was born in Linz under the name of Marcus Füreder. He is a musician, producer and DJ who combines jazz, house and electro elements, creating the new genre electro swing. His songs have been used in countless films, TV series and commercials, assisting him becoming known worldwide. He has also collaborated with Lana del Rey and Lady Gaga.

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The Austrian music industry last gained attention in 2014, when Thomas Neuwirth, known as Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest. The victory of the drag queen and her personality had a very mixed reception. After she won, Wurst became the icon of the European LGBT community and took part in the London Pride by performing in Trafalgar Square. She even sang in the European Parliament and the Sydney Opera House. Yet in East Europe many resented her victory; a few politicians saw the end of Europe in her. Thanks to her success in 2015, for the first time since Udo Jürgens’s victory in 1967, the 60th Eurovision Song Contest was held in Vienna.

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